Log in

No account? Create an account
Del Rion [userpic]

Locked In

Story Info

Title: Locked In

Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)

Fandom: Iron Man (MCU)

Timeline: post-Iron Man 2

Genre: Action, drama

Rating: T / FRT

Characters: J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony Stark (Iron Man). Also: James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine). Mentioned: Pepper Potts.

Pairing: Pepper/Tony (implied)

Summary: An injury sustained in the middle of a battle renders Tony completely incapable of controlling his body – locking his mind within. His body is still trapped in the suit, with the remaining enemies closing in…
Complete. Part of “Genius, AI & Bots” series.

Warnings: Canonical violence, injury & psychological distress, language.

Disclaimer: Iron Man and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau, and Paramount Pictures. In short: I own nothing; this is pure fiction created to entertain likeminded fans for no profit whatsoever.

Beta: Mythra (mythras_fire)

Story and status: Below you see the writing process of the story. If there is no text after the title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.

Locked In

~ ~ ~

Locked In

Tony should have known the Hammeroids would come back to haunt him. Not the exact same ones, of course, but copies, because all of the original ones were blown to pieces within the Stark Expo grounds.

The mystery part came in the form of who was going to try their luck with the designs – and whether they were going to be better or worse than the originals.

Justin Hammer was still firmly behind bars the last Tony had heard, so it was unlikely he was orchestrating this. Unlikely, but not impossible. However, seeing as the new droids were actually an improvement on the previous models, Tony was inclined to think Hammer was not involved.

So far their purpose and goals were a mystery. Tony had spotted them inside a junk yard that had been closed down for years, but there was nothing for them to do there as far as he could see, save for digging around for spare parts once he was done with them.

The big picture could wait, though; Tony had his hands full with the swarm of improved droids, and he could figure out the elements behind them after disabling the imminent threat.

That didn’t stop him from running a list of possibilities through his head, of course, but as long as the droids were solely focused on Iron Man, he was content to let things proceed at their own pace – not to mention being slightly too busy to do otherwise even if he’d wanted to.

He was making good progress, disabling droids and leaving a couple in a condition that could later be used to examine and determine their origin. They fought back hard enough to make him sweat, working better as a team than most groups of robotic adversaries Tony had faced. They posed a challenge, but weren’t unbeatable.

“Mind your six,” J.A.R.V.I.S. noted coolly.

Tony twisted and fired a quick shot with the repulsor of his right hand, unbalancing the droid that had been sneaking up on him. It left a minor opening for two droids in front of him to get within striking distance, and Tony punched one in the face while he still had room to do so. The second one grabbed him, mechanical fingers digging in like hooks, breaching an already damaged shoulder joint of the suit.

“So clingy,” Tony grunted, trying to dislodge the droid.

Behind him, the previously fallen mechanical culprit got back up, taking a cheap shot at Tony’s back, jostling him forward.

“Come on!” Tony snapped, unclear whether he was asking his AI to do something or just talking back to his adversaries.

It was unlikely the droids’ programming was complex enough to understand he was having a bit of trouble overcoming them, but they happened to press their advantage regardless – however small an advantage it was – at exactly the right moment: the droid already holding onto him shifted its hold and managed to dig mechanical fingers between two sections of the armor’s plating. Tony felt it as a pressure building while the mechanical layers of the suit were wedged apart. It wasn’t deep enough to reach his skin, but somewhat alarming nonetheless.

“Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. began just as a warning flashed on the HUD.

Tony felt something akin to a vibration travel up his collarbone and down to his sternum – which was then transformed into a prickling, shocking explosion that knocked his brain momentarily offline.

“Sir!” J.A.R.V.I.S. called out, a frantic note in the AI’s artificial voice.

Tony went to tell him to chill – but nothing happened. It was like his brain was being jammed, the message never reaching his lips – or anything else for that matter.

He tried again, with similar lack of results.

Perhaps if he waited a moment… It had been quite a shock, after all.

Tony was slowly becoming aware, however, that speaking wasn’t the only thing not happening: he couldn’t move, and although his lungs were still pulling in air, it didn’t seem he could actively control even that.

He tried moving again; just a shift, a twitch of fingers, licking his lips…

Fear began to enter his mind as none of those things happened.

He could still feel his body, save for some minor tingling in his extremities, but nothing moved when he tried to will it so.

Okay, he thought and closed his eyes – belatedly realizing he had been able to do that voluntarily. Swiftly he opened them again, to make sure he still could, and found that that hadn’t been taken from him.

He tried to make a noise – any noise – in his throat, and the whine he managed was pitiful indeed, mostly brought forth by air passing through.

“Sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. questioned. “Are you alright? I’m picking up some signs of anxiety from your brain, and an alarming lack of response elsewhere…”

Tony wanted to scream, but unsurprisingly, nothing happened. His eyes, at least, were still under his control, but that was a small comfort.

“Sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. prompted again.

One of the droids attacked again from behind the armor. Tony sensed himself falling down, helpless to stop it. He didn’t even tense up, plopping down like a limp hunk of metal.

Not being able to move didn’t meant it didn’t hurt, apparently.

“Sir, the armor has sustained damage; fighting back or withdrawing is becoming crucial.”

What did his AI think – that he was taking a fucking nap? Seriously…

“You should move, sir.”

Tony blinked – voluntarily – but that was all he could do. At least not being able to move meant physically freaking out was pretty much out of the question, too.

At least his lungs were functioning on their own…

Something pounded against the armor’s back, which had to be one of the droids. If he kept lying there, they were going to break through eventually. J.A.R.V.I.S. must have realized the same, deploying one of the tiny missiles at the armor’s shoulder and blasting the mechanical attacker right in the face. Tony wouldn’t have known, but the HUD was still operational and giving him some idea of what was happening.

“Sir, can you move?” the AI asked then.

Tony blinked.

“Is that a no?” J.A.R.V.I.S. questioned.

Tony blinked again.

“Your brain activity seems somewhat abnormal, but without further scans it is hard to determine the cause. It would seem your somatic nervous system isn’t responding to stimuli, however. This could be the effect of the electric shock delivered by the droid earlier.”

Normally, Tony would have become annoyed by the monologue, but in his current state it was comforting to have some kind of hypothesis to lean on.

He blinked again, then supposed they should set up a system with that. Maybe Morse code.

“I calculate that in your current state, it will be safer to withdraw from battle,” J.A.R.V.I.S. stated next.

Tony never would have left something unfinished like this, but what could he do about it? Literally, all he could do was blink, and that was hardly going to be enough to defeat the remaining droids. It was J.A.R.V.I.S.’s call at this point, and Tony knew the AI would put his safety first.

The HUD gave Tony a warning before J.A.R.V.I.S. assumed control of the suit; an image of the armor showed up on the display, changing color from golden to blue before J.A.R.V.I.S. began to move the armor back to its feet – Tony’s body following along like the dead weight it was.

It didn’t hurt, exactly, but the sensation was rather surreal. He wasn’t able to move along any more than he could stiffen against the motion. Every little movement registered in his brain through a foggy filter, the sensations warped into something barely recognizable.

Almost as if he was halfway removed from his body, yet still firmly tied to it, unable to escape completely – left to drift in the void of nothing.

With that in mind, Tony prayed the corporeal ties held fast against the pull, because he didn’t want to venture a guess as to what would happen otherwise.

Death, in one form or another, was the likeliest candidate.

Had to go there, Tony snapped at himself inside his head.

While J.A.R.V.I.S. worked the suit – and consequently, Tony – to its feet, the droids weren’t about to let him just traipse off; they must have registered something that translated as weakness in their artificial senses and began to approach, moving in for the kill. Tony could only stare at the HUD in alarm and hope that J.A.R.V.I.S. noticed in time.

Why he was concerned about that in the first place, he didn’t know. It made no sense: J.A.R.V.I.S. didn’t fail to see things; the AI didn’t get busy with one thing and ignore everything else – he was incapable of that, if all systems were operational. As it were, J.A.R.V.I.S. was probably boosting himself with a couple spare servers to double his processing power.

Indeed, J.A.R.V.I.S. reacted to the threat an instant later, the HUD lighting up so rapidly Tony feared something had been fried. It might have given him a seizure if prolonged, but the rapid-fire images disappeared a few seconds later.

The hum of the armor changed, power being diverted in a new direction. The HUD stabilized, perhaps to give Tony an idea of what was happening, and this time he was half-prepared when the armor moved.

It was clear J.A.R.V.I.S. was aiming to get away rather than engage in battle, placing Tony’s safety above those of others – if and when the droids became a danger to others.

Again, it was not the choice Tony would have made, but he and his AI had different goals in life.

J.A.R.V.I.S. raised the suit’s arms, firing both repulsors. The AI didn’t need to use the delicate cues Tony employed to trigger a similar result; J.A.R.V.I.S. could easily bypass the human passenger and go directly to the source, telling the armor what to do – and when to do it.

Of course, Tony probably wouldn’t have felt the minor twitch of his fingers even if J.A.R.V.I.S. had tried to simulate it.

Hitting two droids squarely in the chest, the blast temporarily removed a few of their problems. It didn’t stop the others from approaching, though; there were still five functioning droids, albeit a couple of them looked ready to fall apart if someone stared at them hard enough.

J.A.R.V.I.S. deployed the small missiles at the armor’s shoulders, painting the remaining targets and firing at them rapidly after that, clearly not wasting any time for Tony’s benefit.

One of the droids miraculously avoided being shot, swaying to the side just in time to trick the guidance system. Well, it looked more like a lucky stumble than an actual strategy, the droid almost falling down before catching itself and charging forward like a drunken brawler who had already taken a few too many hits to really make a convincing threat.

In his current state, Tony was in no position to get cocky. It if weren’t for J.A.R.V.I.S., he wouldn’t have been moving at all, and would essentially be easy pickings for anyone who cared to try hacking through the armor persistently enough – especially with the damage he had already sustained earlier in the battle.

J.A.R.V.I.S. raised the armor’s right hand swiftly – sending a stab of electric pain through the top right half of Tony’s body. When the AI fired the repulsor an instant later, it was more than a single blast; the continued shot tore through the droid’s upper body, literally blowing it to pieces. While the rest of the droid’s body crumbled to the ground, the right palm repulsor smoked profusely from over-use, and Tony itched to remind his AI that this kind of excessive force would never have gone without comment if Tony had chosen to do it.

Clearly not done with the over-the-top destruction, J.A.R.V.I.S. activated the lasers on both arms and cut the remaining two droids to pieces small enough to be scooped up by a dustpan.

The HUD calmed down significantly after all the threats were eliminated, hues of red vanishing to be replaced by calmer bluish shades. The only red areas that remained were readouts of Tony’s body scans, still coming back with anomalies.

“Sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. questioned. “Shall I… contact someone?”

The AI clearly meant to inquire whether Tony wanted specific help for his current condition – though J.A.R.V.I.S. also must have known his question would go unanswered since there was no change in Tony’s status.

Tony debated his answer, even though he wasn’t able to give it. He wasn’t comfortable being defenseless like this, but whatever was going on was more than he could handle. Going to a hospital was probably an ideal plan, but…

On the HUD, J.A.R.V.I.S. began sorting through the nearest hospitals, graying out any that didn’t seem equipped to deal with this kind of thing – which, according to his AI, seemed to be neurological.

Tony submitted to it, knowing his pride and personal dislikes had to come second to being treated as soon and properly as possible.

J.A.R.V.I.S. selected a hospital with a separate neurological ward in the nearest large city, then began to prepare the armor for flight. Tony could already tell he wouldn’t be enjoying flying in his current state, but what choice did he have?

For a moment, he envisioned arriving at the hospital, his dead-weight body falling out of the open suit of armor. No doubt someone would snap a picture of it – fuck you, Digital Age – and horribly embarrassing images of him drooling all over the pavement would be spread all over the internet and tabloid covers in a heartbeat.

Was avoiding humiliation more important than being treated, though? Tony was constantly on the verge of a full-blown panic attack as it was, and for a good reason: he didn’t like the idea of being dropped off at the first qualifying hospital, to be treated by total strangers.

Normally, Tony had access to a privately hired medical staff and facilities, but this wasn’t the kind of situation where he should push to see whether he could make it to one of those locations. Plus, he wasn’t in the driver’s seat right now – nor would J.A.R.V.I.S. probably obey even if he tried to get that kind of communication through. The suit alone might not be able to make the trip home unaided…

J.A.R.V.I.S. began to narrate the flight prep information, also displaying it on the HUD. The AI made sure all critical systems were still operational before finally taking off as slowly and smoothly as possible, moving Tony’s body along with the suit.

The flight itself didn’t last long, thankfully; J.A.R.V.I.S. pushed the suit to the limit in the air, once they had reached a proper flight altitude. The tear in the suit compromised the hull pressurization, but Tony barely had the presence of mind to notice that.

He put his focus on remaining in the moment and not slipping away, afraid that he wouldn’t be able to come back if he began drifting.

This wasn’t how he wanted to go, as a result of some lucky shot from a B-rated villain. Not a villain, either, but a mechanical lackey.

J.A.R.V.I.S. was silent for most of the flight – something Tony soon found irritating; the silence minimized distractions, and right now being distracted would have been greatly appreciated, to keep him from sinking too deep in his thoughts, and from there to who knew what.

Tony focused and began blinking, spelling T-A-L-K in Morse code on repeat until the AI seemed to catch on after the third time.

“Approaching destination,” the AI said. “Approximate flight time remaining at 16 minutes.”

Normally, they could have crossed the distance shown on the HUD in ten minutes or less, but J.A.R.V.I.S. was being cautious of his precious cargo. Plus, if they went faster, it meant decelerating harder, and Tony wasn’t fond of that thought. He wasn’t certain he was capable of throwing up in his current condition, but he would rather not find out. Flying as a passenger in the suit was a surprisingly dizzying experience – or perhaps his condition was worsening the sensation.

Blessedly, J.A.R.V.I.S. kept talking even after the initial status report: “I have contacted Miss Potts, giving her a brief explanation of what’s happened.”

Well, that wasn’t good…

“I took the liberty of not going into detail, simply stating that you were injured in the fight and are taking necessary precautions by seeing a medical professional before heading home.”

That was almost a lie, but it would keep her from worrying – or coming to meet him at the hospital right away. Tony would rather have not told Pepper at all, but if this couldn’t be resolved quickly…

“I also briefed Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes about the situation. He is en route to the hospital to meet us.”

Tony would have cringed if able, but frankly, he supposed he would prefer Rhodey having his back, so to speak. It was wrong, perhaps, to tell him the truth while keeping Pepper in the dark, but under the circumstances Tony was much more comfortable with this option – and J.A.R.V.I.S. must have known that even before contacting anyone, seeing as he hadn’t presented his plans to Tony and there were no protocols in effect for automated emergency contacts.

He wished he knew exactly what J.A.R.V.I.S. had told Rhodey, though – and prayed Rhodey didn’t contact Pepper directly. Tony loved her, but right now…

Tony didn’t want her to see him like this, be it manly pride or simple discomfort at dealing with her emotions on top of his own fears. She was a strong woman and had endured much by his side, but this was something else.

This thing was putting a real terror in Tony, and there were only a few people he was comfortable having around at such a time.

J.A.R.V.I.S. kept a calm monologue going while Tony’s mind was busy trying to anticipate what lay ahead of him. The AI had no way of telling when he wasn’t actively listening, but just the soft drone of his voice in the background had a positive effect on Tony’s state of mind.

Maybe it reminded him of the hours spent in the company of Edwin Jarvis, who had always managed to make Tony feel safe on a level children usually only experienced with their parents.

In time, J.A.R.V.I.S. began the final approach down towards the hospital. Tony sensed the change in altitude and watched the readings on the HUD. Obviously, the AI was trying to avoid any sudden moves – or any unnecessary movements to begin with.

By the time they touched down in front of the ER doors, Tony wasn’t certain which emotion he felt more strongly: relief or trepidation. The prospect of getting help warred with the dread of having strangers see him at his weakest – and news of his condition threatening to spread out into the world.

When Tony Stark – or Iron Man – was involved, confidentiality often went flying out the window.

Instead of just opening the suit and dropping him to the asphalt, J.A.R.V.I.S. kept the armor sealed tight and slowly began to walk them towards the doors. They opened automatically once they got close enough, letting the armor proceed inside, and Tony watched he heads start turning to check them out – patients and staff alike.

Silence followed; Tony couldn’t speak even if he wanted to, J.A.R.V.I.S. remained silent, and there seemed to be an invisible barrier between them and the rest of the people in the room.

Finally a nurse stepped forward – a big African-American man who looked like he might be able to bench press the armor’s weight. “Can we help you?” he asked.

Rhodey’s voice had never been a low rumble like this man’s, but there was something familiar about it nonetheless. Something mildly soothing.

“Yes, please,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied. Filtered through the speakers, it was impossible for them to tell it was the AI speaking – especially since J.A.R.V.I.S. took precautions by making his English accent disappear in favor of keeping up the facade. “Somewhere more private, perhaps?”

The nurse nodded, and after exchanging looks with some of his colleagues, he motioned for Iron Man to follow.

They went through another set of automated doors, and Tony spied J.A.R.V.I.S. keeping a careful eye on the building’s structural integrity, in case some portions of the floor weren’t able to take the armor’s weight. It was a largely unnecessary precaution, but it was the kind of thing the AI was used to doing in a new setting, not always even informing Tony about it unless there was something to watch out for.

The nurse led them to the first examination room available, not wasting any time.

“Are you injured?” he asked after the door closed behind them.

Tony felt like commenting this was hardly a social call, but for obvious reasons was left waiting for J.A.R.V.I.S.’s comeback.

“Yes,” was what the AI said, then continued: “It should go without saying that disclosing any information within doctor-patient confidentiality laws to outside parties will not be tolerated.” The tone wasn’t threatening, per se, but it sounded like J.A.R.V.I.S. was more than willing to carry out some sort of punishment should someone talk.

“Of course,” the nurse said. “But if you’re so concerned, maybe you should go see one of the physicians on your payroll,” he added, as if offended.

“Unfortunately, there is no time for that; the situation requires immediate intervention.”

The nurse’s expression shifted slightly from insulted to helpful. “How are you injured?”

“Mr. Stark sustained an injury in battle,” J.A.R.V.I.S. started. There was a delicate change in the voice coming out through the speakers of the armor, the AI dropping any pretense that Tony was speaking, accent and all. “An electric shock breached the armor. Since that moment, he has been unable to move or communicate, save for blinking his eyes. That seems to be the only voluntary action he’s capable of at this time.”

The nurse blinked. “Okay… Can I, um…” He made a motion at the armor.

Tony distantly felt the armor opening, a breeze fluttering across his skin before the faceplate moved.

J.A.R.V.I.S. opened the armor in sections, slower than normal, giving the nurse ample time to catch on and step in to assist. Tony wouldn’t have wanted a stranger touching him like this, especially when he was so vulnerable, but there was no way around it, either – not until Rhodey got there, anyway. J.A.R.V.I.S. was right there by his side, too, more than capable of protecting him with the armor should it become necessary.

Slowly, the armor released him into the supporting arms of the nurse. The man clearly didn’t expect the dead weight he encountered, but he swiftly adjusted his grip and carefully hoisted Tony onto the awaiting hospital bed. It was far from a graceful transition, but Tony hardly was in a position to complain.

He just wanted this to be over – but not in the dramatic, ‘I’d rather be dead’ kind of way.

“Alright, Mr. Stark,” the nurse started, “can you –?”

Tony tried to narrow his eyes at the man, and it must have worked somewhat because the nurse hesitated.

At least being around another human provided further distraction, if nothing else. J.A.R.V.I.S. had done a good job, but this was a bit more engaging than being encased in the armor – even when he couldn’t do anything.

“Okay, let’s start simple,” the nurse amended. “One blink means ‘yes’, twice means ‘no’.”

Tony blinked once.

“Are you experiencing any pain?”

Tony considered it, then blinked twice; there was no significant pain anywhere, save for some minor discomfort that may have been due to bruises sustained in the fight.

“You’re unable to move?” the nurse asked.

Tony felt like rolling his eyes, but blinked his eyes once to confirm.

“Any loss of sensation? Can you feel this?” the nurse questioned, moving around him, touching and poking. Tony blinked ‘yes’ every time he felt a touch – which was every time, far as he could tell.

“I’m going to call over a doctor from the neurological wing. I’m not qualified enough to treat you,” the nurse finally said.

“Thank you,” J.A.R.V.I.S. responded.

The nurse left, and Tony stared at the ceiling, counting seconds, then minutes, trying to keep himself in the moment, not letting his thoughts stray.

By the time the nurse returned, he had lost track of the seconds. The man had two doctors in tow, and they went over the nurse’s findings, asked Tony some simple questions, then received an extremely detailed description from J.A.R.V.I.S. They hooked Tony up to a couple machines – he couldn’t turn his head to see which ones they were – then unhooked him and moved him to another room, his armor following them; no one asked J.A.R.V.I.S. to stay behind, probably guessing that wasn’t going to happen.

Plus, the armor’s sensors were tuned to Tony’s vital signs, and the AI had intimate knowledge of his health – not to mention the calming effect of his mere presence.

Rhodey arrived sometime later, sufficiently shocked. He talked with the doctors and J.A.R.V.I.S., then came and sat by Tony’s bed, saying: “Damn, Tony.”

Tony blinked at him.

“They said there’s nothing wrong with you – save for the arc reactor in your chest, obviously – but they’ll take some scans that should shed light on it…”

And if they didn’t?

Tony couldn’t pose the question out loud, which was probably for the best. It was better to focus on the positive – that he was getting help.

It just bothered him to be in a position where he couldn’t help himself.

Exhaustion started to become an issue before they got him to the scans – CAT, MRI, or otherwise, all slightly problematic due to the shrapnel and arc reactor in his chest. The weariness alarmed Tony, his mind simply drifting off, closing in on sleep. He tried to fight it, but as time passed, it was impossible; he could do none of the things he was used to deploying to ward off sleep, from caffeine consumption to exercise.

Every time he thought he was getting a grip on his weariness, it sneaked back in beneath his notice, blindsiding him. That gave him a start each time, even though his body didn’t exactly jump in alarm.

Rhodey and J.A.R.V.I.S. were busy with the hospital staff, possibly going over his medical records – or sipping on the dark brew that passed for coffee in most hospitals, keeping themselves alert while Tony’s body was threatening to drift off into nothingness.

Without stimulation or distractions, his mind was defenseless against the tiresome tide of boredom, and that gave the actual weariness just another way to approach its unsuspecting prey. Tony had never thought it would get so boring in his own head, which normally was rife with ideas and entertaining thoughts.

Maybe the fact that he was locked in with no way out was making things so hard; to have his freedom restrained, out of his reach. He had lost the ability to choose for himself, his mind now a prison – a cell with a hole in the middle, leading to a chasm of nothingness. It gaped black and menacing in the middle of a small room he was confined in, and Tony kept circling that hole until he became dizzy, on the verge of falling into it despite his attempts to stick to the walls.

That image transformed into a nightmare, and several times his foot slipped, as if the rim of the hole were covered with black ice, invisible and deadly. He would fall, his body drawn towards the drop into the unknown as if it were a gravitational center.

Fear pounding in his chest, he would cling to the floor, nails digging in, and slowly he would scoot away from the hole and back to the relative safety of the walls – only to begin circling again, and eventually slip.

He grew weaker, tired of pulling himself back from the edge. Each time he was more afraid – further terrified by the idea of not being able to save himself.

And then, finally, his grip failed, and he slid in, body weighing too much, gravity pulling him down.

Tony had a brief sensation of falling, wild thoughts cluttering his mind.

He started and grasped at the sheets and wires, his stomach still believing it was falling into an endless darkness.

Tony gasped like he had just finished running a marathon, sweat covering his skin in an uncomfortably warm layer. He could smell it, too, fear-induced and thick.

“Ugh,” he wheezed, throat barely releasing the sound. It felt like he hadn’t worked his vocal cords in ages…

“Tony?” Rhodey’s startled voice came from his right.

Tony turned his head to look, the world coming into full focus around him. It wasn’t that he hadn’t seen it upon waking up, but he simply hadn’t paid attention. Not trusting his voice just yet, Tony slowly unwrapped the fingers of his right hand from their grip around the sheets, medical wires, and tubing, raising it in a slow wave.

“You’re moving,” Rhodey responded and rushed in. Relief was easy to read on his face.

“Yup,” Tony replied, then clicked his tongue. The revelation was starting to hit him, too.

A moment later his armor walked inside, and while Tony couldn’t see any obvious signs of relief, he knew his AI was surely experiencing something similar to it.

“Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. started, “I am elated to see you are feeling better.”

Tony acknowledged it with a nod. “What did you do?” he asked, voice coming a bit easier now.

“Nothing,” Rhodey replied.

“We were trying to decide on a suitable course of treatment,” J.A.R.V.I.S. added. “Luckily, none of those measures became necessary.” It sounded like there hadn’t been any good choices to treat his condition.

“How long was I… out?” Tony had no sense of the time that had passed since the battle.

“You were in the locked-in state for approximately 16 hours.”

“Approximately…” Tony repeated, slightly amused.

“15 hours, 48 minutes and 7 seconds – approximately,” J.A.R.V.I.S. clarified, even though Tony hadn’t really been asking for it.

“Did they find the cause?” Tony asked slowly. He wanted to minimize the possibility of this ever happening again.

“I suspect that the electric shock from the droid caused some kind of a short in your nervous system,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied. “The doctors who have viewed your case have been reluctant to agree.”

“They seemed to question J.A.R.V.I.S.’s ability to diagnose you,” Rhodey concurred. “They did appreciate all the info he provided, though.” Rhodey even rolled his eyes at the hypocrisy of that so that Tony didn’t have to.

“Did you tell Pepper?” was the next urgent question on Tony’s mind.

“Not yet,” Rhodey replied. “J.A.R.V.I.S. told me not to…”

Tony gave the suit a thankful smile. Seeing as he had come out of this just fine, there was no reason to make her worry – especially since Pepper’s concern often had other repercussions, and Tony would rather go without that for now.

The doctors swooped in right about then, with a bunch of nurses, making the room extremely crowded; Rhodey bowed out and stepped into the hallway, but the armor remained, easily standing its ground and making it more bearable for Tony to submit to the onslaught of neurological tests before he finally got fed up and decided he was going home.

“But Mr. Stark –”

“I’m done,” Tony repeated. “Either get me my clothes or I’m walking out of here naked.” Well, he wasn’t planning on walking much further than his suit of armor, which was standing right there, but he considered his point valid nonetheless.

Apparently, his argument worked and the doctors compiled a stack of papers for him to take to his private physicians. Tony glanced at them and then motioned for Rhodey to grab them for him.

Rhodey hadn’t had the foresight of bringing him extra clothes – it was clear he had taken off in a hurry, not knowing how bad it was. So, Tony slipped back into his underwear and the undersuit he had worn in battle, which had certainly seen better days. It would get him home, though, and Tony was always a bit leery of borrowing clothes if he could get his own.

He wasn’t going to wait for Rhodey to go shopping, so yesterday’s clothes it was.

“Is the armor in any condition to fly you home?” Rhodey asked as Tony signed his release papers half an hour later. Tony was aware of people giving him quick glances, which he was used to – especially with one of his armors standing right beside him. Under the current conditions, though, it irritated him more than usual, seeing as he was feeling kind of vulnerable. He set down the pen with a lot of satisfaction when he was done signing his name, knowing he was minutes away from being out of here.

“The suit is fine,” Tony replied without knowing if that were really true.

Rhodey looked past him at the armor, seeming to have his doubts.

“Really,” Tony pressed.

“J.A.R.V.I.S.?” Rhodey asked. Tony gasped dramatically, acting incensed by his friend’s lack of trust in his word.

“The armor will make it back to Malibu safely,” the AI confirmed.

“Okay,” Rhodey agreed with a slow nod. “I’m still going to travel back with you, just to be sure.” It sounded like he wasn’t fully trusting Tony’s miracle healing.

“Suit yourself,” Tony shrugged, leaving it for Rhodey to figure out how, exactly, he was going to accomplish that.

Apparently with War Machine, which was standing in the parking garage among all the other visitor vehicles. As they approached, Tony could see people slowing down as they walked by the armor, several of them taking a second glance just to be sure – and others going as far as posing with the suit for pictures.

Tony was glad for his choice to step inside his own suit as soon as he was cleared to leave, saving him a fraction of the attention; he was in no mood to pose for pictures and sign proffered body parts; he looked and felt exactly like someone who had been in a fight, then visited a hospital after.

Rhodey was a bit more patient, but being an officer of the USAF, he was forgiven for being in a hurry to leave, apparently.

With one last picture of the armored heroes together, they headed out of the garage. Tony would have flown out if he could have, but J.A.R.V.I.S. pretended to be re-checking the armor systems, forcing them to walk out and spare the people around them a chorus of wailing car alarms.

Rhodey, at least, had no objections to flying once they were under the open sky, and with his AI giving an ‘all clear’, Tony took off, arching towards home with War Machine hot on his heels.

During the next hour and a half, he pretended not to notice how Rhodey kept chatting him up, and J.A.R.V.I.S. subtly forced him to make several manual adjustments – all to make sure he was still in control of his body.

Neither did Tony admit to himself that he was glad for their efforts.

The End